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No. 8 Darton women's soccer has big hopes; 2011 opener canceled

ALBANY -- Sarah Story and Haisha Cantave had little in common before this summer.

Story, a goalkeeper for Ole Miss, and Cantave, a forward for the Canadian National Team, were separated by more than a thousand miles with little else in common but a love for soccer.

Now the two stars share both a dorm room and a mutual goal of taking Darton College deep into the NJCAA playoffs this season.

"I keep them out of the net, and (Cantave) puts them away," Story said about her and her roommate during practice Saturday.

It's a combination that could make the Lady Cavaliers' soccer team one of the toughest in the nation this season.

And that's exactly what Darton coach Ken Veilands had in mind when he brought in one of the nation's top goalkeepers and a scorer who has played in some of the biggest tournaments in the world.

"For us, it's not enough to just win games," Veilands said. "We want to win championships. When I recruit these kids, that's what I tell them. I sell that point, and I want kids coming here to compete. There is going to be a lot of pressure, and the expectations are going to be high."

Expectations immediately soared when the Lady Cavs, who lost in the Region XVII championship to Georgia Perimeter last season, were voted No. 8 in the country in the preseason NJCAA poll. They were scheduled to open up their season today at home against Oxford College, but Oxford cancelled Saturday because of injuries to several of its players.

So instead, the Lady Cavs open their season on the road Wednesday against South Georgia College, a Region XVII opponent that will be a good test for Darton.

"You almost feel a little bit wronged because you aren't going to have that game in to see what we have worked on in preseason," Veilands said about today's match being cancelled. "South Georgia will be fired up, and they will play us hard. If we go in and play soccer and use all of our talents, I think we will execute and do well."

And those talents stretch far and wide for the Lady Cavs, starting with Cantave and Story.

Story, a 5-foot-10 goalkeeper, started 16 matches at Ole Miss as a freshman and set a program record of 109 saves. She also recorded a school record 17 saves in a 0-0, double-overtime tie against No. 18 Georgia, a program she is thinking about playing for after Darton.

On Saturday, she said she plans on bringing that same shutdown defense to a Darton team that had Australian native Fiona Ryan in the goal last season. Ryan, who is now a sophomore, has had to move to the bench to make way for Story -- a difficult move for a goalkeeper that Veilands said "could play nearly anywhere else in the country."

"I have tons of personal expectations," Story said. "A personal goal is to get fit, first and foremost. For me, I can't let anything get into my head. Fans, coaches -- it doesn't matter who it is. When I am on the field, it is (all) me. Being the last line of defense is a lot of pressure."

And it's pressure that Story -- who left Ole Miss because she said she wanted a change of scenery -- handled with ease last season, posting four shutouts and finishing the year with a 1.56 goals against average and a .801 save percentage, ranking her seventh nationally among NCAA Division I goalkeepers.

"You just have to get it done," Story said about what goes through her head right before she attempts to make a save. "You can't put too much pressure on yourself even though you know it is there. If you get it, you get it. If you don't, you will get it next time."

Cantave can handle some pressure, too.

She is best known for her game-winning goal against Ghana in the 84th minute in the 2010 U-17 FIFA Women's World Cup, which was the first international game she played for Canada.

"I cried. I'm not gonna lie, I cried when I scored," said Cantave, who has also scored international goals against Mexico, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago and Korea. "I was excited. It was my first international game playing for my country, so I started tearing up."

But it takes more than two stars to make a successful soccer team, and Veilands said Lee County grad and sophomore midfielder Rachel Hatch is one of five returning starters who will be key for the Lady Cavs.

"I am expecting a lot from her," Veilands said of Hatch, a two-time Herald's Player of the Year. "Last year was her growing year. Rachel is an incredible athlete. She is the fastest player on our team, and the most athletic player. Now it's just hoping that her soccer knowledge has expanded that much more. I just expect a lot from her this year. For us to go far, she is going to have to make a big impact."

Hatch agreed that this year could be different for both herself and her team.

"A lot of us bonded this year a lot better than last year," Hatch said. "We get along a lot better. Our sophomores talk more to the freshmen, and we click."

Hatch's former Lee County teammate, Kelly Polk, could also start for the Lady Cavs. Pole transferred in from ABAC and is competing for a starting job in Darton's defense.

"Kelly stood out and looks pretty good to take that other spot in the back," Veilands said.

Polk could share defensive duties with returning starters Renee Hurd and Shenel Gall, who was a midfielder last year.

Notably missing from the starting lineup is sophomore midfielder and team captain Taylor Benton, who injured a ligament in her foot and is awaiting an MRI to find out the extent of the injury.

After Wednesday's opener with South Georgia, the Lady Cavs will travel to Tyler, Texas, to play NJCAA No. 2-ranked Tyler College, which opened up the season with a 5-0 blowout of Johnson County (Kan.) Community College.

"If we can beat Tyler and pull these off one step at a time, there is no reason why we can't be No. 1," Veilands said. "That matters because (first) it feels good -- warm and fuzzy. But you also want to be No. 1 when they seed the national tournament. That is key."